Category: Places I’ve Been

A port wine-soaked tour of Porto

Douro River in Porto

View of the Douro River from the Palácio de Cristal

Happy 2016, all! Christmas is officially over, so I’m sad to report that the amount of Christmas market content on this blog will drop by at least 75 percent (don’t worry, though; 25% is more than enough to work with).

The holidays can be a rough time in general, and then add in FOMO from social media’s constant stream of other people’s vacation destinations, and it can get downright awful. If you’re still feeling residual FOMO doldrums, it’s time to imagine a trip that you yourself would love to take, and then plan it in as much detail as possible!

Today let’s take a look at a trip to Porto, Portugal. My brother lives there, so my dad and I headed over to spend our Christmas holiday with him (so unfortunately I was one of those people inadvertently causing FOMO, sorry!!!).

Porto sunset

Porto sunset from Vila Nova de Gaia

Porto is a seaside-town with lots of beautiful architecture and zero shortage of port wine. And given that #myaesthetic is anything that makes me resemble an old British man, I fell in love with all things port-related. I’m proposing here a short afternoon itinerary, which will require a driver, however (Porto’s kind of spread out). So have your DD on hand and let’s get started!

  • Fortify yourself with lunch: Don’t start on an empty stomach. I recommend Cafeina, located in Porto’s chic Foz neighborhood. The food here is beautiful and delicious. In fact, despite joking all week about the “Instagram Husband” video and not getting the whole taking-pictures-of-your-food phenomenon, my dad finally broke down here — over a seared foie gras appetizer.

    If you’d really like to treat yourself, head to The Restaurant at The Yeatman in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the Douro River from Portugal. This is where all the port houses are found, so after lunch you can head right on over. The Yeatman is the only restaurant in Porto with a Michelin star, so it ain’t cheap, but it has incredible reviews.

  • Ruby, tawny, and vintage port wine

    Ruby, tawny, and vintage port wine

  • Taste all the port: Fun fact about port and Vila Nova de Gaia: once the wine is bottled (in the Douro valley, about 100 kilometers from Porto), it’s only allowed to spend one winter at the vineyard, then it gets floated down the Douro, to Gaia and its respective port house.

    Port house tours are great fun and you get to learn more than you ever thought possible about the wine. And best of all, you can do tastings! We went to Graham’s, and I fell in love with their tasting room: it looked just like a British library, complete with photos of Winston Churchill. đź‘Ť

    Other port makers include Sandeman, Taylor’s, Ferreira, and Ramos Pinto; you really can’t go wrong.

  • Walk it off: You got this.

    Livraria Lello

    Livraria Lello, bookstore of my dreams

    Of vital importance: You must see the Livraria Lello, known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Legend has it that JK Rowling used Lello as inspiration for Harry Potter (she lived in Porto for several years). It’s 5 Euros to get in (you can buy tickets in the stall across the street) but well worth the price of admission. And despite what I read everywhere on the internet, they were allowing people to take photos!

    Lello is walkable to a bunch of other fun sites. For instance the gardens of the Palácio de Cristal. These boast a breath-taking view of Porto and the Douro, and are perfect for photo ops. And I’d probably be whipped by all the citizens of Portugal (jkjk I’m sure the Portuguese would be perfectly pleasant to me) if I didn’t mention the TILES. The exterior of the Igreja do Carmo and the interior of the São Bento train station are famous for their tile work. Go and straight up litter Instagram with your shots.

  • Igreja do Carmo

    Igreja do Carmo — and those tiles!

    Craving a seaside walk? The promenade at Foz is gorgeous, and you’ll have a front-row view for some awe-inspiring ocean waves. You’ll also be close to the Foz Do Douro Urban Park, which is pretty and charming and all that good stuff.

By the time you finish sightseeing, you’ll probably feel lovely enough to return to wherever you’re staying and watch a Bones marathon, which is exactly what you should do. Or, you know, go out to dinner and check out the nightlife. I don’t know how you have all this energy, but whatever, you do you!


Halloween in NYC, Part the Second: Haunted Houses

Nightmare haunted house in NYC, p/c

Nightmare Haunted House, p/c

Aaaaaand I’m back with more Halloween in NYC goodies! If you missed the first installment, you can check it out here.

So, if you’re not the touring type, I mean, first of all I pity you, I really do, but there is still plenty to do in NYC in preparation for All Hallows’ Eve (I guessssssss). So let’s get to planning some more Hallowrific good times.

This week, we’re talking about haunted houses! Because honestly, what would Halloween be without a haunted house?

  • Blood Manor: This and Nightmare, which we’ll talk about next, are arguably the biggest haunted houses in the City, and they’re both done really well. Blood Manor now has something called Touch Me Thursdays, where the cast members are allowed, yes, to touch you (only with your consent though!), so if you want to step up your horror game, you do you.

  • Nightmare: A few years ago, Nightmare was riding the Twilight high and did a vampire concept — and it was actually really, really good: one of my all-time favorite haunted house experiences. This year’s theme is Horror Show, which means that they’ll actually put on eight mini horror productions. So you can be super hardcore this October, make multiple trips, and see a different thing each time! (And if you have that kind of budget for Halloween, let’s talk and maybe you can sponsor an NYC trip for me or something, haha.)

  • Blackout: Ugh, Blackout. So, full disclosure, I’ve never been, mostly because nothing sounds less appealing to me than a haunted house with a safe word. But this one is consistently written up as the most terrifying one in the country, so far be it for me to withhold that information from my loyal readers. It’s 18+ (for violence and sexual situations), requires you to sign a waiver, and often makes you go through alone. My recommendation is to do a little Google research before you go and decide for yourself if Blackout is right for you. Here’s a review to get you started.

  • New York Haunted Hayride, p/c

    New York Haunted Hayride, p/c

  • New York Haunted Hayride: Brand new to NYC, the haunted hayride takes place on Randall’s Island. It’s an offshoot of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, which usually gets good reviews. So this is your chance to get in on the ground level and try something completely new!

There are a few more haunted houses of note, of course, so check out NYMag’s 2014 guide for another POV. Of course, things may change between 2014 and 2015, so be sure to do your own research.

I’ll be back again next week with some decidedly less-scary options, because I am nothing if not thorough (and also a wee bit obsessed).

Can I get a hygge?: Winter in Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens at ChristmasTivoli Gardens at Christmas (photo by @mandy_n)

It is absolutely the wrong time of year to even think about what I’m about to write about, buttttttt… my blog, my rules. Neener neener!

So, there’s this Danish concept called hygge which, like all the best foreign words, cannot really be translated into English. The closest we can come is “cozy,” but really it’s all about soft candlelight (or #literally ALL the fairy lights — see photo above), a roaring fire, a warm boozy beverage, and good companionship. It’s one of the ways the Danes get through the long, dark winters (though there is a summer version of hygge that mostly involves barbecues and picnics) and still have their sanity more or less intact.

And it’s hygge that I think of when it’s been 95 degrees every day for basically the last two months.

Leslie Knope - Everything Hurts and I'm Dying gif

So what better time to put FOMO-busting to good use? Let’s hygge it up!!

My dear friend Mandy and I traveled to Copenhagen in November 2013: prime hygge season! We stayed in Nørrebro, a funky neighborhood just outside of center city, perfect to escape to after a day of sightseeing.

There are tons of cozy and comforting places to visit so you can get your hygge on.

  • Ravnsborggade: One block up from the waterfront, this small street is lined with adorable boutiques that, come mid-November and after, host miniature Christmas markets. Antique shops like Ingerslev Antik (#22) let you outfit your own home with all the vintage hygge you can, while Bungalow (#17) has stylish paper goods, Christmas ornaments, lights, and textiles for decorating with a more modern, but still homey, touch.

  • Sandwich from Smag in Copenhagen

    ~*~*THE*~*~ sandwich from Smag (photo again by @mandy_n)

  • Smag: This sandwich shop’s cafe is not really all that much in line with hygge, but their food itself is some of the most comforting you will ever eat. (If you’re looking for a cozier setting, you can take your food to Kaffeplantagen just up the street; they won’t mind.) Take, for instance, their smoked salmon sandwich, which when we had it was complemented by dark rye bread, a green pea puree spread, whole peanuts, arugula, and pea pods. We had to fight temptation to not go back for it every day we were in Copenhagen.

  • Kaffeplantagen: Danes are famous for their love of java, so where else to look for hygge than in a coffee shop? Grab one of Kaffeplantagen’s creamy, foamy lattes — be sure to dust it with cinnamon, if the barista hasn’t already — and choose from their beautiful selection of pastries. They also serve savory food, but in limited quantities, so try to get there right at lunch if you’re looking for something heartier (and if for some bizarre reason you’ve decided to forgo eating at Smag).

  • Bevar’s: Bevar’s is one of the more hyggelig cafĂ©s in Nørrebro. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and also have free Wi-Fi, so it’s a popular all-day hangout spot. The crowd turns livelier in the evenings, though, when there’s often musicians performing. On these nights, people put their computers away and start chatting with unfamiliar faces; however, the music is still low enough where you don’t have to shout. If you’re there on your own, grab a glass of wine at the bar and make conversation with the bartender; they’re happy to give you some recommendations on how to find what’s hygge in town.

  • Barking Dog: What better way to warm up on a damp, chilly day than with a hot toddy? The Barking Dog offers several different kinds (though unfortunately you won’t find the standard Christmas gløgg — mulled wine), and its cafĂ© has plenty of nooks where you can hole up and forget about the rest of the world for a while. Their cocktails are handcrafted — think specially chipped ice, freshly zested citrus, etc. — so they take about 3-5 minutes to prepare. Service takes a while on weekends, but it’s quite an enjoyable show to watch.

Bars, bars, bars: Barhopping in Reykjavik

Reykjavik at midnight

Reykjavik at midnight

Yikes, only a few posts into this blog and I’m already awful at it! It’s been over a month since I blogged, but in that time I went to Iceland, helped friends plan (and pack for!) a trip to Paris, and am now helping other friends plan a vacation in Iceland and France. So I have been keeping busy on the travel front; I just haven’t been sharing it with you fine folks.

Well, last time we left off at restaurants in Reykjavik, so this post let’s chat about a few of the bars — only this time I have the added bonus of in-person knowledge.

I got into Reykjavik on a Saturday at 5:30am. As a result, I was totally out of sorts all day and unfortunately didn’t get to appreciate the full Saturday-night pub crawl that normally happens (starts at 11pm, ends ????). So, most of my bar experiences happened midweek when Reykjavikers don’t normally hang out, and to be sure, I mostly met ex-pats on these adventures. Still lots of fun, still great people and good conversations, but less “authentic” perhaps. (I still met my fair share of Icelanders, though, so you can put your tiny violins away; I shall soldier on!)

Anyway, without further ado, let’s talk about bars!

  • Mikkeller and Friends Reykjavik: Mikkeller is a Danish brewery that I really wanted to go to when I was in Copenhagen, but didn’t have enough time. They brew a vast amount of beers and let you sample before you buy, which, if you’re a completist, can probably get you in some real trouble! I came here directly from my dinner at Dill (they share a building) and wasn’t ready to go home yet, and I’m glad I did.

    It’s a dude-heavy atmosphere for sure (men at a beer bar, go figure) but very laid-back; I felt totally comfortable coming here on my own. I chatted with a Spanish guy who lives in the same town as my parents — small world, amirite? — and his Icelandic friend, so it’s definitely a great place to get a mix of locals and travelers.

  • Drinx Bar at Kex Hostel: Kex is not your typical youth hostel filled with young backpackers touring on the cheap. They have a variety of rooms at different price points, so all sorts of folks stay here. It’s also really well integrated into the town, and Reykjavikers often come here for a drink or two at Drinx. I spent my birthday in Iceland, which was a Monday night — not exactly a huge party night for Icelanders — and figured Kex would be a good place to grab a drink since it has an international “population,” if you will.

    The bar is beautiful: it’s done up to look like the library in a manor home, and it faces the bay, so you have a view of the water and the mountains across the way. (How’s that for poetry.) They serve food and of course also have a decent drink selection — it was here that I tried BrennivĂ­n, one of the most famous Icelandic schnapps, and affectionately nicknamed “Black Death.” There was a ton of people there, even on a Monday night, so I was able to make some friends and properly ring in my new year!

  • Ă–lstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar (or just Ă–lstofan): This was where I attempted a leg of the Saturday night pub crawl, mostly because I had heard that it was a good fit for the 30something crowd. :/ Turns out it was just the thing for my jet lag; I was able to have a quiet drink while still feeling right proud of myself for managing to be out on the town. It’s very neighborhoody, very chill: when I first got there it was about half-empty but over the hour or so I spent it got calmly raucous. The bartenders will chat with you and you can also talk to your neighbors; if you’re feeling less social there are tables around the perimeter where you can hole up and do your own thing.

  • Snaps: I had dinner here my first night in town, still in a jet-lagged haze. In fact, I almost didn’t go here at all, but it conveniently was a 5-minute walk to my apartment, so it was my compromise with myself. It ended up being a fantastic spot with delicious food. I suppose it’s mostly known for being a restaurant, and a very popular one at that: if you don’t reserve in advance you’re probably going to be sitting at the bar, which is where I happily ended up. Almost the moment I sat down my two seatmates and I got to talking, and we more or less spent our entire dinner in conversation. The bartenders/waiters were awesome and really accommodating — good-naturedly humoring my neighbor when he asked about four different waitresses what the catch of the day was when he didn’t believe it was a type of catfish. Snaps was a fun and delicious introduction to the town, and it rightly earns its title of one of – Reykjavik’s coolest bars.

  • Waffles and whipped cream

    My beauties!

  • Tiu Dropar / Le Château de dix gouttes: I didn’t expect to go to Tiu Dropar, only because it’s a French restaurant and I was mostly looking to keep to more Icelandic spots. But, having just spent 10 hours on a tour bus careening through drizzly weather, I was chilled to the bone and in desperate need of coziness. This is a basement-level spot, a bit dark but cheerily lit by candles: it’s the kind of place you want to hole up in on a dark winter evening (or a summer evening that’s 45 and rainy). The bar is quite small so it’s more a spot where you grab a table and read, or write, or just gaze off into the middle distance and contemplate life. That is, of course, when you’re not eating waffles and whipped cream. Which should really happen more often. In fact, I’m not quite sure why I’m not eating them right now.

Well, it hopefully will not be as long between posts from here on out. Like I said, I’ve been working on a lot of travel-related things, so I just need to get them up here!